Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2013 by M.A. Lawson
Kay checked the time. Again. Maria Delgato was forty minutes late. If Maria had decided to blow her off, Kay was going to invent a reason for arresting her tomorrow.
Kay was sitting alone at a splintery wooden picnic table near a taco stand that was closed for the day. Two middle-aged men in an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria were parked fifty yards away. If Kay hadn’t been so pissed at Maria, it would have been pleasant sitting there, enjoying the view of the Coronado Bridge and the skyline of San Diego across the bay. Kay had just decided to give her five more minutes when Maria swung into the parking lot in her boyfriend’s BMW convertible.
Maria stepped from the car, hesitated briefly, and started toward Kay, then stopped when she saw the two men in the sedan.
“Come on,” Kay said. “Those guys are with me. They’re okay.”
Maria Delgato was eye candy: twenty-four years old, long black hair, a heart-shaped face, a coffee-and-cream complexion. She had an incredible body. They had surveillance photos of her sunbathing topless on Tito Olivera’s yacht, and there wasn’t a DEA agent in San Diego who hadn’t seen those photos. Kay was surprised they hadn’t been posted on the Internet.
“Are you the one who called me?” Maria asked when she reached the table. She was probably surprised that Kay looked only a few years older than her.
“Yeah. I’m Kay Hamilton. Sit down.”
“Let me see your ID.” Maria’s English had just a trace of a Spanish accent.
“Sure,” Kay said. Kay was wearing a blazer, and she made sure Maria could see the .40 caliber Glock in the shoulder holster as she took her badge case from an inside pocket. The Glock intimidated most people, but probably not Maria. She was used to being around men who were armed. Kay flipped open the case and showed her credentials. “Now, sit down.”
Maria sat. “Okay. What’s this all about? What happened to my brother?”
“Did you tell Tito you were meeting me?” Kay said.
“No. Of course not. He’d kill me if he knew I was talking to a DEA agent.”
She was probably right about that, Kay thought.
“So where did you tell Tito you were going?”
“I told him I had to go see my mother, that she’s not feeling well. I see her three, four times a week.”
“Good. After you leave here, make sure you go see your mother.”
“Just tell me about my brother. You said he was in trouble.”
“He is. I arrested him this morning,” Kay said. “He was carrying an unregistered weapon and four eight-balls of cocaine. Dealer’s weight.”
Miguel Delgato was a year younger than Maria and almost as pretty. He sold coke to college kids at San Diego State because he looked like a college kid himself. Kay didn’t think he was a bad guy; he just didn’t know any other way to make a living.
“Miguel’s now looking at a minimum of five years in the federal pen at Victorville,” Kay said.
“Ah, Jesus,” Maria said.
“Yeah, that’s right. When he gets out of jail, he’ll be infected with AIDS and God knows what else, and he’ll look like those washed-up hookers you see on El Cajon Boulevard. You know, Maria. The ones who look like zombies, all the life gone from their eyes.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Kay didn’t answer the question. “To make matters worse, you, your brother, and your mother are all illegals. You’re not U.S. citizens.”
“Bullshit. I was born in Arizona and I got papers to prove it. Birth certificate, social security number, all that shit. So does Miguel and my mom.”
Kay shook her head like she felt sorry for Maria. “You have forged papers, Maria, and they’re bad forgeries. You were born in El Salvador, and you and your mother and your little brother snuck into the U.S. twelve years ago, right after your father died. Maria, I know more about you than I do about my own sister.” Kay didn’t have a sister, but she did know everything there was to know about Maria Delgato and her family.
It looked for a moment like Maria was going to continue to argue that she was a bona fide citizen, but she gave up. “What are you saying? You’re gonna deport me?”
“That’s right. Your mother, too. ICE is going to drag her out of her nice little apartment in National City, stick her on a plane with only the clothes on her back, and ship her back to El Salvador. You’re going to be on the plane sitting next to her. Then I’m going to make sure you never get back into this country again.”
“Why are you doing this? All the crime in this fucking country, and you’ve decided to destroy my family. Why?”
“Because you’re sleeping with Tito Olivera.”
“So what? That’s not illegal. I don’t have anything to do with the things he does.”
“You’re right. Fucking Tito isn’t illegal, and I know you don’t have anything to do with his business. But you see, Maria, my only reason for living is to put Tito Olivera in prison, and I’ve decided that you’re the one who’s going to help me do it.”
“You want me to snitch on Tito? Do you know what the Olivera cartel does to snitches?”
“Yeah, I know what they do. So we need to make sure you don’t get caught.”
“I’m not gonna get caught, because I’m not gonna help you. That would be suicide.”
Kay stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. Have it your way.”
Kay rose from the picnic table and made a Come here motion with her right hand. Maria turned to see who she was waving at, and saw it was the two guys in the Crown Vic. When they got out of the car, Maria could see they were two serious-looking white guys wearing suits and aviator sunglasses. They started walking toward the picnic table.
“Who are they?” Maria asked.
“ICE. They’re taking you and your mother to a detention center tonight, and tomorrow you’ll be on your way back home. As for your gorgeous brother . . . Well, there’s no point repeating myself.”
“Wait a minute!” Maria said.
Kay held up a hand and the two men stopped walking.
“My mother’s got a heart condition,” Maria said. “She could die if you send her back to El Salvador.”
“Not my problem, Maria, but I’m sure they must have some kind of medical system down there.”
“Look. I need some time to think about this.”
“There’s nothing to think about. You’re either going to help me or I’m going to deport you and your mother, and I’m going to do it so fast that you’re not going to have time to get a lawyer or anybody else to stop me.”
“But I can’t help you! I don’t know anything about Tito’s operation. He doesn’t tell me what he’s doing.”
“Maria, we can’t get recording devices into Tito’s house. We’ve tried half a dozen times, but there’s always someone there. I’ve got warrants to tap his phones, but even as dumb as Tito is, he knows better than to say something incriminating on the phone. What you’re going to do is put a few bugs in the house for me. I have them with me. They’re tiny. You’re going to stick one under Tito’s desk, one under that big black coffee table in the living room, and one under the bar by the pool.”
“Tito has the house swept every week for listening devices.”
“I know that, Maria. I also know the kind of equipment he uses, and Tito’s equipment won’t detect these bugs.”
Maria was silent, probably trying to think of some other reason why she couldn’t do what Kay wanted. Finally, she said, “And that’s it? I put a couple bugs in the house and you leave my mother alone and you let Miguel go?”
Kay laughed. “Come on, Maria. You think all blondes are stupid? If I let Miguel go, you’ll tell Tito about the bugs and Tito will help Miguel get into Mexico. Then Tito will get a hotshot immigration lawyer for you and your mama, and it’ll take me years to deport you.”
“So what happens to my brother?”
“Your brother is going to be arraigned for intent to distribute narcotics and for carrying a concealed weapon, and the judge will give him bail. We’ll make sure he has enough cash to pay the bondsman. Then we’re going to take Miguel into protective custody. It’ll look like he skipped to keep from going to jail, but we’ll have him. If you do what I want, as soon as Tito’s arrested, we’ll let your brother go and he won’t serve any time. But if you don’t do what I want, then Miguel goes to Victorville.”
“This can’t be legal.”
“What do you know about legal, Maria? You’re a wetback, not a lawyer.”
“This isn’t right.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Kay said. She stood up again and motioned at the two men in suits, who were now leaning against their car. “Guys, she’s all yours. Get her out of here.”
“All right! I’ll do it. I’ll plant the bugs. But that’s all I’ll do.”
“No, that’s not all you’ll do. I’m going to call you every once in a while from an untraceable phone. The number won’t show up on your cell phone bill, and since we’re watching Tito all the time, I’ll call when he’s not around. Then we’ll just chat. You’ll tell me what Tito’s been up to, who he’s been talking to, that sort of thing. You know, girl talk. If I think we need to meet, we’ll meet.”
“You’re gonna get me killed.”
Kay placed her right hand gently on Maria’s forearm. “No, I’m going to take care of you, Maria. I’m going to take care of your brother and your mother, too. After this is all over, we’ll put you into Witness Protection if we have to. We’ll get you new identities. We’ll relocate you. You want to become American citizens, we’ll take care of that, too. And with your looks, I imagine it won’t take you any time at all to find some rich guy to marry—it just won’t be Tito Olivera. Now I’m going to tell the guys from ICE that you’ve decided to cooperate, and after they’re gone I’m going to show you how to attach the bugs. They’re real easy to attach.”
Maria put her head in her hands and started crying. Kay gave her a pat on the shoulder and said, “Stop that. You’re going to smear your mascara.”
Kay walked over to the men leaning against the Crown Vic. One was a nurse at Scripps Mercy Hospital and the other was a yoga instructor. They lived together and were Kay’s next-door neighbors. They were also wannabe actors. When Kay had told them she needed their help in a small sting operation and all they had to do was show up in suits and try to look tough, they were delighted to help.
“You guys can take off,” she said to them. “And thanks.”
“How we’d do?” one of them said.
“Perfect. You looked like two badass federal agents. The sunglasses were a nice touch.”
Actually, the sunglasses were over the top.
“You want to come over for drinks tonight? Don will make up a pitcher of strawberry margaritas and you can tell us what’s going on.”
“Sorry,” Kay said. “I can’t tell you. But I will be over later for the ’ritas.”
After what happened to Kay in Miami, she was going to limit the number of people who knew about Maria Delgato to only one other agent in the DEA—which was why she’d used her nice-guy neighbors to impersonate ICE agents. She was going to do everything she could to minimize the risk of Maria—or herself—being killed because people couldn’t keep their mouths shut. There was not going to be another Miami.